Diamondbacks Report Card: Center Field

Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

It's gonna be strange this year, not having Chris Young on Opening Day - only Luis Gonzalez has more such starts in franchise history. But center field was a roller-coaster for the D-backs this year. It started brilliantly, had more than its share of issues, but the arrival of Adam Eaton ended things on an up note. Let's recap, and look forward.

2012 Expectations

Chris Young. That was pretty much the plan going in to 2013. After all, he had started all but sixteen of the 324 regular-season games there, since Opening Day 2010. Sure, his batting average hadn't been quite what we'd liked, but he had made up for that with decent plate discipline, and good power for a position not exactly known for it. Over those two seasons, only three center-fielders had hit more homers: Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson and Vernon Wells. Add on to that his excellent defense, which made the capacious sward beneath the batter's eye at Chase look a lot smaller than it was, and we were set. Need a day off? Parra, when there's a tough rightie on the mound.

2012 Reality

And it had all been going so very well, too. Young started the season at a quite epic tear. After the first 11 games, Young was hitting .410, with more walks than strikeouts, giving him a .500 on-base percentage. He had hammered five home-runs, driven in 13, and was enjoying a 1.397 OPS. Then, leading off the fourth inning of a game at Chase against the Pirates, Pedro Alvarez hit the ball deep into the left-center gap. Young showed his usual impressive speed, after a good jump, to close down the distance and jumped to take away extra bases from the Pittsburgh hitter. But before we could even rise to applaud another web-gem by Young...

Chris-young-wall_medium

It was one of those cases where as soon as he went down, your heart sank. And the longer he stayed down, the worse it seemed. The eventual prognosis was a deep bone bruise, and a slight tear of the ligament in the AC joint of his right shoulder, and despite him begging Kirk Gibson not to be placed on the DL, it was not a hard decision for the team - it was the first missed time due to injury of Young's career. Gerardo Parra took over as the every-day center fielder, with A.J. Pollock being called up from the minors to become the fourth outfielder, making his major-league debut on April 18.

Young would miss fractionally over a month, sitting out 28 games before returning to the Diamondbacks in mid-May. I've got a strong suspicion that he came back too soon, before the should was properly healed - at the end of the season, CY admitted as much, saying "I probably rushed back and never really found what I had." Certainly, when he did, the magic was gone, and his offense a pale shadow of its former self. In 38 appearances from there through to the All-Star break, Young batted only .143 (19-for-133), with an OPS of .491. The second half was better (.261/.327/.471), but a right quad injury restricted him to PH duty for the last month.

Parra was the main "beneficiary" of playing time, filling in solidly, at a position with which he wasn't particularly familiar - he had only three starts playing center in 2010, and a solitary contest there in 2011. He also produced his best offensive numbers in the spot. However, the real revelation was Adam Eaton, who was a September call-up, and due to Young's injury, became the regular occupant, starting 21 of the last 26 games. A .794 OPS is pretty good as a start to a career, helped by a K:BB ratio of 15:14, but his all-out hustle and grit endeared him to both fans and coaches. He was also a worthy winner of the 'Pittie for Play of the Year, thanks to this low-orbit ion cannon::

Eaton_medium

G PA AB R H HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Chris Young 84 342 307 35 70 13 36 8 3 33 74 .228 .307 .430 .737
Gerardo Parra 47 197 176 35 55 3 20 8 5 19 32 .313 .378 .472 .849
Adam Eaton 21 102 84 19 22 2 5 2 3 14 15 .262 .386 .417 .803
A.J. Pollock 14 58 49 5 9 1 4 0 1 7 8 .184 .276 .306 .582
Team Total 162 699 616 94 156 19 65 18 12 73 129 .253 .336 .430 .766

2013 Expectations

The trade of Young was no surprise, given his increasing cost ($8.5 million this year, an $11m team option in 2014) and the cheaper alternatives Arizona has in Parra and Eaton. Indeed, the trade with the A's for Pennington seemed logical, filling a position of obvious need at shortstop, and clearing the log-jam in the outfield. However, subsequent related moves were less obvious: the money saved by Young's departure was immediately given to the league's most expensive set-up man, Heath Bell, and the log-jam was restored with the signing of Cody Ross. Right now, we are looking at an outfield of Jason Kubel, Ross and Justin Upton, with Parra as 4th man, and Eaton in Reno.

However, it still seems probable that one of the five current outfielders will be traded, and that will shake things up. If it's the most likely candidates - Kubel or Upton - then Ross will move over to take over the vacated spot, and Eaton becomes the starting center-fielder (and, I suspect, lead-off hitter), with Parra remaining the Swiss Army knife. That would appear optimal: I think Eaton's plate discipline and speed are a great fit for the top of the order, and would give the D-backs the best option they've had there in a very long time. Hopefully, his other skills will also translate to the majors at a decent level: early signs were good, but small sample size applies.

Conclusions

In terms of offensive production overall, center-field was respectable enough, if not spectacular. Here's where they ranked, compared to the best by OPS (Pittsburgh), worst (Houston) and league average last season.

Rk G PA AB R H HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 PIT 162 708 626 111 206 32 102 20 12 71 138 .329 .398 .551 .949
5 ARI 162 699 616 94 156 19 65 18 12 73 129 .253 .336 .430 .766
Ave 162 703
629 90
166 15 64 27
9
60
148
.264 .332 .408 .741
16 HOU 162 677 597 68 125 13 59 33 13 62 197 .209 .290 .317 .607
It could have gone worse, especially if you told us that our anticipated regular player at the position would start barely half the time (84 games). Who would have said, at the start of the year, that a Parra and Eaton platoon would see almost as much time, and have an OPS in center close to 100 points better than CY? There was much grumbling before the season about Kevin Towers' signing of Kubel, relegating Parra to fourth outfielder status, but this was certainly an area where having depth proved a good thing. Parra and Eaton stepped up admirably, and if the season was still disappointing, we can't hang much responsibility on our center-fielders. OVERALL GRADE: B-

Other Pit opinions

soco: Chris Young was pretty good until someone cursed him after the first month. Adam Eaton looked pretty good until he was knocked out with an injury. Gerardo Parra exists. AJ Pollock looks vaguely like DbacksSkins.

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